You can look at the down side of living in the Shenango Valley and see neighborhood blight, food insecurity, retail closures, homelessness and the opioid epidemic, said Sherris Moreira, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce.

But, those negatives only tell part of the story of the area, she said. It’s the chamber’s job to highlight the positives, and there are plenty of those.

Sherris Moreira

Sherris Moreira

“Our job is to provide a measure of hope and a vision for the future,” she said. “What we have here is special and valuable.”

The chamber, which includes Brookfield and Hubbard in its service area, and representatives of area industry, business, education and the arts sectors talked about the positive things to look out for in 2018 and beyond on Jan. 30 at the chamber’s Forecast Breakfast. Things to look forward to include:

  • Mercer County Community Federal Credit Union will be renovating its Sharon office.
  • Joy Cone Co. will open a new manufacturing oven in Hermitage.
  • Eastwood Mall, Niles, will open an events center and welcome At Home, a home décor super store.
  • The Youngstown-Warren area will be served by an eBay program, Retail Revival, to develop brick-and-mortar businesses.
  • The chamber has created a “relocation guide,” a publication and online tool to help businesses with recruiting efforts by highlighting the area’s community, education, recreation, arts and shopping offerings.

To drive and keep alive the entrepreneurial spirit of new business, the chamber has hosted monthly meetings of small business owners run by the Mansmann Foundation of Pittsburgh. Mansmann’s Terry Doloughty described the foundation’s mission as helping these businesses “solve problems, plan for the future and move their business forward.”

Terry Douloughty

Terry Douloughty

It’s a big-picture perspective many small business owners never see as they rush to put out the fires of day-to-day operations, he said.

Business owners face similar challenges, no matter what industry they are in, Doloughty said.

“They become each others’ support group,” he said.

New businesses are welcome to join the group and can inquire at the chamber.

Penn State Shenango in Sharon considers Mercer, Lawrence, Trumbull and Mahoning counties as its core service area, but wants to expand beyond those areas in attracting students.

One way it is doing this is by bringing athletics back to the Sharon campus. The college has reached agreement for the Buhl Community Recreation Center in Sharon for certain home games, and has been working on its existing outdoor athletic field.

However, students from the other side of Ohio, New York or West Virginia won’t come if there is no place to live. The college is working on that, said Athletic Director Andre Miller.

College branch President Joanne Carrick added that academics are not being pushed behind and an adult nurse practitioner program will start in the fall with Primary Health Network, Sharon, providing sites for clinical work.

“I love the idea of making Sharon a college town,” said Jim Landino of JCL Development, the real estate holding company behind LuLu Beans coffee house in Sharon, many other properties in Sharon, and Backyard Buddy, which makes car lifts, in Warren.

“It’s about trying to bring the themes of Ashville, Greenville and Tampa here,” Landino said of his efforts.

Those themes include providing an attractive quality of life, and Erie Arts and Culture announced grants to five area arts organizations:

  • Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville, $1,483 to support “The Music Man,” which will be staged March 16-18 and 23-25 in the Pierce Opera House, Sharpsville.
  • Don Gold, $1,715 for art classes for seniors and exhibitions of their work at the Shenango Valley Senior Center, Hermitage; Community Library of the Shenango Valley, Sharon; and Trinity Living Center, Grove City.
  • Random Acts of Artists, Sharon, $1,754 to support a mural that will be painted on the side of the Pennsylvania CareerLink building in Sharon.
  • George Junior Republic, near Grove City, $1,308 to support its student public sculpture program.
  • Valley Lyric Opera, Sharpsville, $3,000.
John Ackley

John Ackley

A new addition to the quality of life offerings in the area is set for May 25-27: Roundtable Con, a convention of “geek games, nerd games,” such as Pokeman and other trading card games, strategic board games and role-playing games, said organizer John Ackley. It will be held at the Park Inn by Radisson, West Middlesex.

With its “Camelotty” theme, Roundtable Con hopes to attract 300 to 400 gamers and 20 to 40 vendors, Ackley said.